I have read the document with interest. I sympathise with the anxieties expressed by the association, but its document was, in my view, too general in presentation to provide a useful assessment of changes in spending patterns. However, it makes a helpful contribution to the current debate about personal social services.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that because of the Government's expenditure cuts, and the consequent pressures on local authorities, there have been threats recently concerning ambulance services taking people to workshops for the infirm, and transporting the disabled and arthritic? The Minister's constituency is in the same borough as mine. Would it not be the decent thing for him to resign? He would thus do the people a good service.
As the hon. Gentleman has said, I share a director of social services with him, and I have made inquiries about the problems that he has raised. I understand that the loan of vehicles to voluntary organisations has ceased because of maintenance difficulties and because of the need to reduce expenditure. However, I am informed that an alternative scheme is to be considered by the authority in June.
To be more serious about this important matter, would my hon. Friend agree that the cut in real terms is 6·7 per cent., which is harsher than for all other public services? Is he aware that my local authority has already trimmed its administrative manpower, and therefore the cuts will fall on much needed personal social services? That can only mean greater cost to the Health Service through longer stays in hospital, especially for geriatric and psychiatric patients.
The figure to which my hon. Friend refers is contained in paragraph 12 of the White Paper. The figures are necessarily tentative, because it is for each individual local authority to decide the eventual distribution of savings in the light of local needs and conditions. There is no reason for a local authority to cut personal social services by 6·7 per cent. if it can meet its overall target, set by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in some other way. It is for each local authority to determine how best to deploy its resources to meet the needs of its area, and we hope that it would have regard to the most needy.
We now know what local authorities are doing. Is the Minister aware that the figures published by the Association of Directors of Social Services last week show that 90 per cent. of all local authorities have cut back on residential care, and a third have cut back on home helps, on meals on wheels services, on aid for the handicapped, and on social support for the needy in the community? That has happened after several years of advance, and more cuts are planned next year. Is this not a shameful situation?
The survey also shows that some social services departments have not made any cuts, and that the local authorities have still met their overall targets.